Please keep in mind that I was the biggest chubbette in the class and my ability to match the beat was, how do I put this? Challenged. I was basically a fatter, ballsier Little Miss Sunshine, and I wish I could say I have the emotional scars to prove it. But I don’t. It’s possible I’m a sociopath because my love affair with all forms of written and performed sketch material lives on, and I think it’s about time I got back to my glory days. Stripping, optional. And I say yes to that option because acting is all about letting go.
Before I can join the cast of SNL and make the show funny again, I need to hone my chops. Los Angeles has the Groundlings, Chicago has Second City, New York has Upright Citizens Brigade, and San Francisco has Killing My Lobster. While not as famous for churning out SNL stars like its contemporaries, Killing My Lobster is noteworthy in its own right. Its members’ comic sensibilities mimic the city’s inhabitants; maybe that’s why its tagline is, "Funny can mean different things to different people.” Founded in 1997 by a group of graduates from Brown University, KML has grown exponentially since. The group now has two full-time staff members and a large rotating cast of actors, directors, writers, and stage managers who work together to produce original sketch shows, full-length plays, and tons of digital shorts for KML's YouTube channel . Fresh.
I sit in on a rehearsal for KML’s latest show, and it’s fucking hilarious. In one scene, the group reenacts Dateline NBC’ s To Catch a Predator, but in this sketch, Chris Hansen busts the witch from Hansel and Gretel. The actress who plays the witch is so dead on in her creepiness, even in the most absurd moments. You really believe she is the character, an ornery septuagenarian child-eating monster. Finally, a future I can aspire to!
In addition to its shows, KML also offers sketch acting and writing classes. Quite a few of the graduates from these classes go on to join the company, but most people take the courses for fun, to unwind from hectic day jobs, or to get better at public speaking. It’s like Toastmasters, but with swearing. I feel especially inspired when I hear from Miriam Wild-Smith, writing director for Killing My Lobster, that most people have a hard time writing comedy for women. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that the obnoxious rumor about women not being funny persists? Not only do we need more women in comedy, we also need more people creating good material for women. In order to see if I have “the touch” to be the next Kristen Wiig, and to get a better sense of what to can expect at a typical KML acting class, I invite my friend Erin Carter over to my apartment. Erin is a Lobster performer and teacher, and one of the funniest people I know. To give you an idea of her sense of humor, Erin has been developing a one-woman production of the musical Cats , but simply called Cat. It’s about an unemployed, washed-up former member of the original cast of Cats who spends most of her day licking herself while wearing a spandex bodysuit. You gotta have guts to pull something like that off, and fortunately, Erin is uninhibited and goofy enough to do it.
For my informal one-on-one class, I put together my actor’s ensemble: a black turtleneck and sweatpants, which are very comfortable for whatever is thrown my way, yet still classy. Just like an actor. I’ve also got a scarf, a bullhorn, and a bouncy ball (good for acting like you’re a basketball player and/or pregnant). I resist the urge to put on the fake mustache I purchased just in case she needs me to play Tom Selleck.
It turns out I won’t be needing any of these props, but Erin laughs at my insane eagerness. She starts me off with the basics, the tenets of sketch comedy acting. The first thing we talk about is finding the central joke. It’s about focusing on the main premise of the sketch and not distracting from it. You can be as ridiculous as you want to be, as long as you’re true to your objectives and your world. The example Erin gives is Wayne’s World . Even though Wayne and Garth are over- the-top characters who live in a crazy world, no one who enters is totally out of context – like a random person in an elephant costume. I take this advice to heart as I carefully fold my elephant costume. Foiled again!
Erin explains that other important factors in sketch acting are to create larger-than-life characters (think Chris Farley’s van-down-by-the-river motivational speaker Matt Foley, or pretty much any character Will Ferrell plays, or even just Will Ferrell himself), being a believable straight man (in SF? Yeah right! LADIES AM I RIGHT? See! I’m good at this already!), saying yes, and playing well with others. I think I’ve got the basics down, so Erin decides to put me through the paces.
The first game we play is a warm-up exercise called “Thumper.” I start to get out my bunny costume (I seriously have one, I came to party), but Erin stops me. Thumper, deceivingly, has nothing to do with bunnies. Instead, it’s a ridiculous game where you get in a circle and each person comes up with a gesture-phrase (a "thumper"). The first person throws out a thumper, followed by someone else's thumper in response; then it's that person's turn. The second person does a thumper followed by someone else's response thumper, and so on. Since Erin and I are the only ones in our circle, we each throw out several thumpers in a row. I start by jumping in a circle and screaming, “I’m joining the navy!” then make a lion “rawr” motion with my hands and say, “Would you like a bear claw with that?” Erin busts out her classic thumper where she lies on the ground and rolls her legs up over her head as though she’s doing the "plow" yoga position. We go back and forth until we’re laughing so hard that I fear my neighbors might call the police.
Once we’re done warming up, Erin decides I’m ready for some acting. She has prepared scenes that were developed by the KML crew, including one called “Audition.” For this scene, I play a woman who is auditioning to be the Verizon spokesperson, but the person who is holding the audition makes me deliver the line, “Can you hear me now?” as if I were in various insane and terrible situations. One time I’m asked to say it like I’m at my grandparents’ funeral, another time as if I were a wet dishrag. Acting in these scenes is not only fun, but also creative. It’s like I’m nine years old again, feeling the thrill of the stage and the adrenaline rush that you only get from acting like a total lunatic in front of an audience. And I didn’t even have to strip! Not bad.
KML’s sketch classes culminate in performances for an audience made up of friends and family of the students. Graduating students either perform in sketches to show off their new acting chops or write skits for KML members to act in. Since I’m a lone wolf, I decide to make my boyfriend both my audience and performer. First, I demonstrate some of my new characters for him. My favorite is “Bouncing Belinda,” a super bitch who bounces on a ball and yells through a bullhorn about how pissed off she is about her terrible facial hair (read: fake moustache) and about not being able to find a good cosmetologist to help her. After I’ve sufficiently terrified my boyfriend, I force him to participate. Don’t worry, this is like every other night for him and I think my sketch lessons could seriously kick up our sex life a notch. I mean, sexy dress-up is fun and all, but sexy dress-up when I play Sherlock Homeless and he plays Watson (aka my shopping cart)? Kinky! So you see, sketch comedy isn’t just about becoming a celebrity, it’s also about saying yes to all the great (and freaky deaky!) things that come your way in life, and that’s a good skill for everyone to have. Now, more rehearsal!
Killing My Lobster's sketch comedy classes are available for both writers and actors and take place often. They’re $250 for six weeks of expert direction in your chosen field. Go on, get famous!